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Five Tips to Fight Childhood Obesity

By Denis Faye
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By far, the most prevalent health and fitness headlines concern obesity, mainly the rise of childhood obesity. Here are a few facts and figures to help keep your kids fit and trim and help turn the tide of the childhood obesity epidemic

We're surrounded by fitness solutions at every turn, yet the obesity epidemic is still growing like mad. On a short trip to three countries in Europe last summer, I found an obesity feature on the cover of seven publications. While not nearly at U.S. proportions, there's an obvious "alarm" going off around the globe. For example, what's considered to be a high rate in Europe is nearing 9%, whereas in the U.S. it's hovering around 30%. At any rate, the rest of the world is now scared enough by the problem that it's become major headlines. And an interesting fact is that in some countries where starvation is still a viable threat, obesity rates are still on the rise.

This leads to the main question as to whether it's due to poor diet or lack of exercise. There is no question about obesity following the pattern of fast-food restaurant dispersal; all you have to do is look at a map. However, the latest studies are showing that even with Big Macs and Big Gulps, caloric consumption among children is not going up as much as exercise levels are coming down.

Recent studies by British medical journal The Lancet, the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition have all consistently shown that exercise is the central determinant of whether kids are overweight. The figures show that kids are consuming approximately 3% more calories than they did in the '70s but getting a whopping average 20% less exercise!

Another interesting fact is that affluent society is now at just as great a risk as low-income groups. In the early 1970s, 22.5% of people with incomes below $25,000 were obese, while just 9.7% of people with incomes over $60,000 were obese. Today obesity is growing the fastest among Americans who make more than $60,000 a year. Since higher income groups tend to eat "healthier," or at least can afford to change their diets easier, this is another signal that exercise matters more than diet.

A good example of this is that only very low-income children tend to take themselves to school these days. Issues with safety now mean kids may have traded in a couple of hours of movement for time in an air-conditioned SUV. Mix in thousands of TV channels, the Internet, and video games and it becomes quite possible for a child's mindset not to include anything related to exercise at all.

But the number of obese children is still rising among all socioeconomic classes, and it will keep growing unless lifestyle changes are made and people become more aware of the situation. No economic class is immune from obesity. Especially hard on the lower classes is the fact that the least healthy foods tend to be the cheapest, making it very difficult for those children to eat properly.

All of this leads to a very serious situation. Obesity affects more than how you look. It increases the risk for a number of diseases, including diabetes, stroke, insulin resistance, and hypertension. Obesity carried into midlife may also have damaging effects on the brain.

Finally, all is not lost. It's not that hard to be fit and healthy. It just takes, more than anything, a change in mindset. Here are five tips to start you out.

  1. Get with a program! I rarely toot our own horn but I'm about to, because home fitness is where it's at. If you don't want your kid to walk to school, where the amount of recess has probably been drastically cut, and at home they like to stare at the TV and the computer, a home fitness program is the easiest way to start your child on the road to proper habits. There are now many kids' programs to choose from, but really, other than heavy weight lifting (rare at home), there isn't much in the way of exercise that wouldn't be good for your kid. So get 'em on a plan and make them earn their TV time.
  2. Sign 'em up. Thankfully, there are still many extracurricular exercise options (dance, soccer, little league, etc.) available through schools and community centers, as well as private organizations. Many of these cost very little No Sodamoney and, compared to the health cost of obesity, even a private trainer would be a bargain. Plus, your child will learn how to do some cool stuff.
  3. No soda! How soda pop has become a cultural mainstay as a refreshment item is a testament to clever marketing. Nothing could be worse for a growing body than a constant diet of sugar and phosphorus. If we did nothing but eliminate soda from society, obesity rates would plummet.
  4. Limit Fast FoodLimit fast food. These restaurants have also done a remarkable job getting into the child psyche. From clowns to playlands to strangely colored foods, they've been able to captivate kids all the way through adolescence. Think of how many high school hangouts are the local fast food place. And while they are starting to offer better options, how likely are a bunch of teenagers to sit around and gossip over salads? This is a tough one, but having a plan where fast food is a treat, and not a staple, would be a huge improvement.
  5. Make Movement a Way of LifeMake movement a way of life. It's so easy these days to park yourself on the couch and not move for hours. You've got to be proactive about changing this. Whether it's limits on TV, forcing your kids outside for part of the day, or organizing family hikes, you should do something to instill a lot of movement as a daily habit. And not just for your kids; it won't hurt you a bit either!
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